The Box

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The scene: New Years Eve 1999. I am 16 years old, a junior in high school. We are on the verge of Y2K and everyone is a bit on edge wondering if the world as we know it is about to collapse and sink into chaos. On this fateful night, all of our nearest and dearest gather together: My parents, my younger sisters (12 year-old middle schoolers), my grandparents, and our closest family friends, the Lindner family. We sit together in the living room of my parents’ new house that they had just finished building the year before. In the middle of the room sits an empty box.

***

For twenty years that box, now full of treasures, sat on a shelf in my parents’ storage closet.  Twenty years seemed like a long time to wait. During that time my sisters and I graduated high school, completed college, started our careers, got married, and had children. Time passed and life happened. As we–the children of the family–grew up and began lives of our own, The Box became a constant subtle reminder of our family’s shared history.

Many times we would completely forget about The Box. And then someone would go into the closet to pull out extra winter gloves or a box of childrens books for new grandchildren, and we would catch a glimpse of The Box tucked away on its shelf. Then we would remember: This is where we came from. As time went on we all forgot what was actually in The Box, but the mystery just added to its allure.

***

As New Years Day 2020 approached, excitement was in the air–not just because we were approaching a new year, a new decade, a new beginning, but because this was the year we could finally open The Box.

We made plans to gather together once more so we could open The Box together. This time, though, it required quite a bit of planning. What originally was two families totaling 8 people had now grown into six families consisting of 18 people from two states and six different cities. But where there’s a will, there’s a way, and we set a date for January 1st, 2020.

On New Years Day we gathered together once more in the same living room of my parents’ house. And in the center of the room sat The Box.

***

As we all watched on with eagerness, my dad and his best friend, Ed Lindner, did the honors of cutting the seal on The Box. When they lifted the lid we could finally see the latent treasures. There were newspapers (the real estate section was quite enlightening/depressing, depending on how you look at it), magazines (Teen People with a 17 year-old Brittany Spears on the cover), and advertisements (Circuit City was having a blowout sale on the brand new flat screen TVs). There were relics of our youth: Beanie Babies (Still worth exactly nothing, despite our hopes that we’d be millionaires from their popularity and rarity 20 years in the future), McDonald’s toys (my kids’ favorite), a baseball. There were mementos of our past lives: ribbons and awards, photos, my homecoming corsage. There was even a gold coin.

None of the treasures, however, compared to the stack of envelopes stacked in the center of The Box. For inside these envelopes laid the hopes and deepest thoughts of the former selves of the people gathered in that room.

Each envelope bore the name of one of The Boxes founding members, and inside each envelope was a questionnaire we had filled out. The surveys included everything from our favorite places to our thoughts about what life would be like in the future. The answers were both hilarious and touching. As we went around the room reading our “letters” aloud there were tears of both joy and sadness. Joy over who we are and how far we have come. Joy over the relationships that have endured and the new ones that have come. Sadness over what and who we have lost.

We spent hours that New Years Day going through the letters and the contents of The Box. And as we did, I was reminded of the power of a dream and how precious this life is.

When we created The Box I was a teenage girl dreaming of the life I now live. I had dreamed of some day being able to travel and teach and start a family. And now, 20 years later, I can truly say that I have lived the dream. Since the box’s creation, I have traveled to over a dozen countries and even spent time living abroad (a dream I had but wasn’t even bold enough to put down in writing). I got to live out my childhood dream of being a teacher and having my own classrooms of full of real-life students. I’ve been married to my one true love for nearly 14 years, and together we have 3 beautiful, crazy children. The life I dreamed of 20 years ago is my current reality–complete with the peaks and valleys of a life truly lived.

I know that things could have easily turned out differently for me–that my dreams could have produced a different reality–but I suppose I was lucky. Or maybe, just maybe, the dreams I had as a girl were placed in me as a guidebook. The life I was supposed to live already had a roadmap, and it was simply up to me to stay the course. My hopes drove my desires, which led to my doings. And by staying close to the path that had already been carved out for me, my dreams really did come true.

***

I have no idea what the next 20 years will hold for me, but I can’t wait to find out. In another 20 years I will be in my mid-50’s with three adult children. My world and the world around me will surely have changed yet again. And despite the changes that lie ahead, I look forward to that day 20 years from now. That day when I will look back and realize I’ve lived my own dream.

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